New Delhi: A Rajasthan Police notice to the then deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot has been cited as the trigger for his rebellion against the Congress, but senior party functionaries have a different story to tell.
They claim that Pilot had almost “synchronised” his rebellion with Jyotiraditya Scindia’s in March but the nationwide lockdown on account of the spread of coronavirus delayed it.
Two days before the lockdown was announced on 24 March, a hotel had been booked in Manesar, Haryana, to assemble potential rebel Congress legislators who would be ready to go with Pilot. The booking was for some later date but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a lockdown scotched the plan, claimed Congress functionaries.
They said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was aware of Pilot’s plan through an “intermediary”, a former Congressman, but was not directly involved as it wanted to first see how many legislators he could bring on his side.
That was the first time the Congress high command got “suspicious” about his intentions, also because of how Scindia, a friend of Pilot, had brought down the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh.
“The fact is that we saw it coming from March. But, until Tuesday, when he put forth three irrational demands, making it obvious that he was buying time to poach more MLAs, we kept trying,” a senior functionary of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) told ThePrint.
“If he had come for the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting Tuesday, we were still ready to discuss his grievances,” the functionary said.
The three demands Pilot purportedly made were: A formal announcement of him being the next chief ministerial candidate for the 2023 assembly election; removal of the AICC general secretary in-charge of Rajasthan, Avinash Pande; and, proper rewards to his loyalist MLAs.
After the CLP meeting in Jaipur, skipped by Pilot and his loyalists, the Congress announced his removal as deputy CM and state unit chief.
Party sources say that 16 out of 107 Congress MLAs — and three Independents — are with Pilot but the Congress has the support of 104 MLAs in the 200-member assembly.
ThePrint reached Pilot for his comments on the claims made by Congress functionaries but there was no response until the time of the publication of this report.
‘Three warning signals’
Despite the warning in March, the Congress high command chose to wait and watch, sources said.
The second time the Congress high command was “alarmed” was ahead of the Rajya Sabha bypolls last month, they added. While Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot went public with his apprehensions about the BJP’s attempt to split the Congress MLAs, he conveyed to the party high command that Pilot had met a top government functionary of the BJP and was working to engineer defections.
An already miffed high command, the sources said, gave a carte blanche to Gehlot to do whatever it took to prevent it.
Congress functionaries in Delhi told ThePrint that the third time they got “a warning signal” was when they got wind of Pilot’s aides booking hotel rooms in Manesar last week. That was “days before” the Rajasthan Police served a notice on him to record his statement following the arrest of two BJP leaders for their alleged attempt to topple the government.
In fact, that information prompted Gehlot to go after Pilot to settle the matter once and for all, said Congress functionaries.
“People are criticising the high command for not acting in time to persuade Pilot. The fact is, the high command was aware of his plans to rebel on all these three occasions since March. Some party leaders spoke with him several times during this period but he didn’t relent,” a senior AICC functionary told ThePrint.
If Congress leaders in Delhi were to be believed, by the time Pilot and his loyalist Congress MLAs came to Manesar over the weekend, the Gandhi family had already lost hope. Despite that, many attempts were made in the past three days to persuade him even as he kept repeating that Gehlot was trying to finish him politically and he couldn’t bear it any more, said another Congress functionary involved in crisis management.
They claimed that Pilot had met BJP leader Om Mathur in a Delhi hotel Sunday even as he kept evading any meeting with Congress leaders. Mathur, however, denied it to ThePrint.
A BJP functionary claimed that it was Scindia who was “looking after Rajasthan operations”.
Congress sources, however, said the BJP was not too enthusiastic about bringing Pilot on board. According to the sources, the BJP was initially ready to back Pilot’s claim to chief ministership, whether as a BJP member or at the helm of a new outfit set up by Pilot himself. However, they are now “non-committal” on even offering him a position at the central level. When Scindia left the Congress, he was welcomed into the BJP with a nomination to the Rajya Sabha.
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